Fever Pitch

The Farrelly brothers have a softer side, and it’s on display in Fever Pitch. Gone are the gross out staples of their other movies. Missing are There’s Something About Mary’s offensive sperm jokes and Stuck On You’s inappropriate Siamese twin humor. Fever Pitch is sweet, light, romantic comedy without any of the usual sicko Farrelly flair. It feels like a movie that ought to star Adam Sandler, but makes do with Taxi’s metrosexual Jimmy Fallon.

The premise is timely, albeit unintentionally so. The film is a romantic comedy set in and around the Boston Red Sox baseball season, with Fallon as an obsessed fan, trying and failing to balance the rigors of insane, slavish devotion to his team and proper treatment of his girlfriend Lindsey (Drew Barrymore). With the Red Sox amazing World Series win last season, the movie becomes rather topical, though it was originally conceived as a movie in which the team (as was once usual) lost. When the Sox triumphed, the Farrellys backtracked to change Fever Pitch’s ending.

Complete with season update chapter titles, the film wraps its romance around watching baseball, without actually becoming a sports movie. Told entirely from the perspective of a normal guy sitting in the stands, it’s more a standard romantic comedy that happens to have baseball in it. The Red Sox are just this script’s chosen obsession; you could plug any old geek fantasy into it and get the same result. Ben could just have easily been a crazed Star Wars fan, or perhaps one of those freaks that’s way too into wrestling. The Sox work because the team and its fans have been in the news, and because everybody has a deluded sports fanboy somewhere in their family tree. Being obsessed with sports is more socially acceptable than dressing up as Obi Wan Kenobi, though I submit no more or less unhealthy. No one wants to date a guy wearing Spock ears, but women are willing to put up with a wardrobe composed entirely of Yankees jerseys. Life is so unfair.

Fallon works well enough as Ben, though it would be nice if he’d wear less makeup. Heavy eye shadow and over-plucked eyebrows are the order of the day, a little out of place in a character that’s supposed to be a frumpy, baseball-nerd school teacher. Still, Fallon is great at being affable, and he’s as affable as can be here. Drew, who’s clearly dropped a lot of weight and is back to looking retarded-fabulous, brings the same inevitable sparkle to this role that she brings to everything. I have a little trouble buying her as the high powered executive her character is written as, but then anal-retentive power-women don’t work very well in cutesy, dating scenarios.

The movie’s strength is its script, and the writing is pretty tight. Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, the movie sticks to its premise, brushing across the surface of fan mania and the Red Sox season as simply a means to tell an easy going romantic story. Fallon, lacking the talent to engage in the kind of improvisation you get from other comedic leads, seems content to float along within that framework. The same is true of the Farrelly brothers, whose trademarks are almost nowhere to be found. In fact, I’d forgotten they had anything to do with it, until the closing credits popped up a Directed By credit for Peter and Bobby Farrelly. Does making a movie like this reflect some long overdue personal growth on the part of the Dumb & Dumber tag team directors, or have they simply given up and decided to take whatever paycheck they can get? Since the gross out genre seems to have run its course, I doubt there are all that many people out there who still care about the answer.